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A slap in the face to poor children

Published August 29. 2012 4:00AM

Some towns still have a lot to learn more than a quarter-century after the Connecticut Supreme Court ruled the state's system of funding public education unconstitutional because it relied so heavily on local property tax revenues that rewarded wealthy communities at the expense of impoverished cities.

Most notably, the Gold Coast hamlet of Greenwhich is rightfully under fire for a new policy that requires families who rent to provide proof of residency with an affidavit as a way of ensuring only legal residents attend schools there. The regulation also mandates that families with children hoping to attend Greenwich schools must provide a copy of their lease, along with a notarized affidavit from their landlord promising to inform officials if the tenant moves.

Children whose families didn't submit the affidavit would be barred from class; landlords who failed to inform the district of any move would face criminal prosecution.

It's insulting enough that Greenwich, which, as the home to so many Wall Street titans and corporate CEOs, has one of the highest per-capita incomes in the nation, chooses to stigmatize its less well-to-do residents. Equally deplorable is that the town, like so many other ultra-affluent enclaves, continues to exercise the same unfair advantage cited in the landmark Horton v. Meskill court case in 1977.

Even though in response to that ruling the state has tried to come up with new funding formulas and to offer innovative programs in urban districts, the sad reality persists: rich kids are given better educational opportunities than poor ones. This reflects Connecticut's dubious distinction of having the nation's highest degree of economic disparity among neighboring municipalities.

There have been some positive signs - the success of some magnet schools, such as the Science and Technology Magnet High School of Southeastern Connecticut, which draws suburban students to New London, and of regional schools such as Norwich Free Academy, which also has a healthy blend of urban, suburban and rural students.

As for Greenwich, reaction to the new rule has been so universally negative school administrators are considering revising or rejecting it.

This can't happen soon enough.

In Greenwich's defense, this newspaper understands the anger of local taxpayers and some town officials who object to paying for a service used by outsiders. And there is no question some parents try to break the law by sending their children out of district without paying tuition.

But Connecticut cannot continue to allow Greenwich, New Canaan or Darien to have more desirable schools than, say, Bridgeport, Hartford or New Haven.

Until those homogenous, exclusive towns include more affordable housing as part of an economically diverse demographic, parents will continue to try to send their children to "rich" schools outside their neighborhoods.

Placing the blame on poor people doesn't solve the problem.

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